Prologue or Epilogue? You be the judge.

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by Larry Brooks on May 27, 2010

Considering a Prologue or an Epilogue for your novel is like playing with guns. 

You need to point them in the right direction or you can get hurt.

A Prologue is a tricky little piece of business that, definition-wise, resides somewhere between a hook and seductive foreshadowing.

An Epilogue is like a soft kiss goodnight after a great orgasm, tying up loose ends, explaining what just happened and sending the reader away totally satisfied, yet perhaps yearning for more, maybe even with a tiny knot of anxiety remaining.

Sometimes, if read as isolated chapters, you can’t tell the difference. 

What follows here is one or the other.  A Prologue or an Epilogue.  It’s from a recently published novel — mine. 

I won’t tell whether it’s a Prologue or an Epilogue.  The idea is… you tell me.

If it’s the former, I hope it hooks you.  If it’s the latter, I hope it makes you tingle.

Prologue/Epilogue from “Whisper of the Seventh Thunder”

We are watching you.

As it has been since your innocence was eternally withdrawn, we are at your side.

We are not flesh, though when summoned we may assume your transient form, and it is then we are reminded of your blessings, the gifts of sensation and perception.  Our substance transcends thought, though more often than you know your inner voice is the quiet echo of our prayers.  Nor are we simply the stuff of dreams, though in dreams we show you truth in mirrors of what you already know.   

We are essence, born of physics beyond your comprehension, purer and swifter than light in the vacuum of space.

We move among you.  We are the soft edge of shadow at the periphery of sight, though as you turn we are already gone.  On occasion you hear our footfalls, masked within the rattling of your own disbelief.  When you sense in your heart that you are not alone, rest assured you are not.  Know that the occasional random notion or unprompted memory is neither random nor unprompted.  We are the architects of what you assign to coincidence.  You will come to understand there is no such thing. 

We witness the consequence of your desire, and sometimes we must weep.  We know your suffering and exalt your joys as if they are our own, as indeed they are.  We know your destiny but not your fate – one was written in sand at the dawn of time, the other is yours to etch onto the tablet of your own will.  The two embrace, and the dance is life itself. 

We are bit players in the drama of your days.

Know this, and take caution: others dwell in shadow, denied the Light.  They know your yearning, and would use it to mark your soul.  And thus the battle is waged.

You call us angels or ghosts or other names which are neither right nor wrong, yet despite this veiled awareness your scholars write us off as lore or imagination.  But like much of what has been written, they are misled.  We are real, as tangible as the unseen air that sustains you.

We are witness and scribe to all that you do.  We are with you always.

And upon occasion, we are obliged to intervene.

Whisper of the Seventh Thunder
 

If this did indeed hook you, you can read more about the novel HERE (the “Fact and Fiction” tab is especially interesting)… or you can read reviews and, if you’re still hooked, order it HERE.  With my abundant gratitude.

Coming Monday: we kickoff the deconstruction of “An Education” (the film).  And, the “winner” of Wednesday’s little workplay contest.

Chandrika May 28, 2010 at 12:06 am

This sounded like a Prologue to me. Let us know what it actually is :)

Livia Blackburne May 28, 2010 at 5:19 am

I’m going with prologue. It’s a total tease. (in a good way )

Katrina Lantz May 28, 2010 at 8:01 am

Wow! I’ve added that book to my amazon list, so for me it was definitely a hook. I vote prologue. If the rest of the book is as good, this will be one I want to own. Thanks for sharing!

Elizabeth May 28, 2010 at 8:43 am

I’ve peeked into Whisper on Amazon ;) so I can’t offer my guess, though, IMHO, it would work better as the other one.

Becca May 28, 2010 at 9:13 am

Either I am way off or I just see things in a different light because after I read your prologue/epilogue I felt it was an epilogue.

It felt like a very nice wrap-up of an underlying character that could be felt through out the book. I have not read the book yet but I have it on my “to buy” list for this month.

Sylvia Bright-Green May 28, 2010 at 9:20 am

I believe it was an Epilogue from “Whisper of the Seventh Thunder.” Although, it could be used for both, a beginning and and end to bring the reader full circle of telling them what you’re going to say, and then telling then what you said. That’s what was so great about the writing.
I am not a fiction writer. I am a memoir non-fiction writer, but there are a lot of similiar rules, no matter what the genre. I enjoy your blogs, your talent and your professional advice.

Great writing, Sylvia Bright-Green

Lloyd Corricelli May 28, 2010 at 12:09 pm

My guess is it’s a…oh, wait…I edited the book.

I guess that’s not fair. :) Best book I’ve edited to date by far. When does the damn movie come out?

e.lee May 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Aren’t prologues a no-no, according to literary agents because they can stall the narrative flow?

Larry May 28, 2010 at 3:51 pm

@e.lee — yeah, I’ve heard that, too. All kind of little “rules” out there. Thing is, Prologues are bad when they don’t work, and they’re fine when they do (Dennis Lehane opened “Shutter Island” with a Prologue). Sometimes Prologues are thinly disguised as “Chapter 1″ to avoid a knee-jerk reaction from an agent or editor, when in fact the content and intention is exactly the same. So that’s an option if the word makes you nervous. As a narrative tool, though, they can valuable… when done properly. Hence the opening line of today’s blog. Thanks for writing, hope this helps.

nancy May 28, 2010 at 4:05 pm

I just finished the book on Saturday, and this section did tingle. It is beautifully written, angelic. I love the way the tone and flow differ from that of the regular narrator. After I read it, the thoughts lingered. I wondered why you placed it where you did–and after reading the above, I see you mulled over the options. When the guessing time expires, I hope you will share your thinking process.

Evelyn May 28, 2010 at 6:37 pm

My current work starts with a prologue, of sorts — it is one of those kind that starts with the ending. It may change, that’s just how it started. Maybe it will become the next to the last chapter. Who knows?!?

“Whisper of the Seventh Thunder” is sitting on my table. I feel a little bit of both Prologue and Epilogue in what you’ve shared with us. To be honest, I don’t know where it appears in the book. I have not even opened it yet.

I’m gonna say that the following sounds like it could go either way and has snared me nonetheless. It reminded me a little of Frank Peretti and a little of my own fantasy world that I retreat to at times. Those are both compliments because I liked “This Present Darkness” and I like my own mental world, or I wouldn’t mentally go there! :)

“You call us angels or ghosts or other names which are neither right nor wrong, yet despite this veiled awareness your scholars write us off as lore or imagination. But like much of what has been written, they are misled. We are real, as tangible as the unseen air that sustains you.

“We are witness and scribe to all that you do. We are with you always.

“And upon occasion, we are obliged to intervene.”

Shiver! :)

This one is next on the list for me, barring any belligerent books cutting in line.

Lloyd Corricelli May 28, 2010 at 9:28 pm

I prefer it as a prologue. For me, I had questions all along what certain characters motivations may have been and my interpretation was that the prologue answered those questions.

Others may interpret it differently.

As for literary agents…most are literary agents because they can’t write. :) Why would you take advice from them?

Lloyd Corricelli May 28, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Did I say prologue? I meant epilogue. I shouldn’t post after midnight.

Larry May 28, 2010 at 9:35 pm

@Lloyd — dang, Lloyd, you had me going there for a moment. L.

Lloyd Corricelli May 30, 2010 at 9:46 am

Nothing good happens after midnight, especially when it comes to posting.

Adam June 2, 2010 at 5:36 am

i’d read the book before this, so didn’t feel it was fair to answer. i like prologues for the most part, and don’t see the difference between starting with a prologue or chapter 1. The writer starts the story where they think is best, and iread from the start.

The novel i just finished writing has a prologue, and because it is a pivotal moment from the MC’s young life that impacts the rest it feels right to me as a prologue. It wouldn’t fit anywhere else, and i started writing this before i’d done any research on writing. The genre i write (fantasy) prologues are common, so i just made sure that it is as good and works as well as i could.

btw, loved Whispers. My wife is reading it now and a co-worker has asked to read it when she finishes. ;) Not my usual genre, but it is entertaining and nice to see all the lessons you give here in action.

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